Developing Effective First Line Leaders

What’s the one best way to develop first-line leaders’ communication skills?   Hint: it’s not just training.

Having advised many of the companies that regularly churn out the best leaders, I believe the most effective type of leadership development comes from blending classroom training and on-the-job execution that’s targeted squarely at improving business results that matter. Training is not the goal. It’s a means toward building a better business.

Much of my work with first-line leaders is centered around helping them understand the communication system within their—and any—organization, as well as how to manage it to create better results and increased value. They learn about collaboration, giving feedback, building and reinforcing the right culture, selecting and nurturing the right people, holding yourself and your team accountable, establishing a climate of openness and trust and celebrating wins. They learn communication styles and how to capitalize on them.

Although all of these topics can be discussed in a classroom, they don’t come to life—or pay off for that matter–until they’re translated to where the work gets done.

Classroom training represents an event with a beginning, middle and an end. Events can teach us different approaches, checklists and knowledge. However, no matter how well events are designed, leadership competencies are built over time through practice and continuous improvement. Skills come to us over time – not in a “one-shot, one-time” training course, regardless of the quality of the course or trainer. Skills are developed with practice and application. Leadership development is a process.

This process is built in the classroom. As an example, I frequently work with first line leaders to help them build a rigorous team huddle and scoreboard process throughout their organization. We teach them step-by-step how to lead a fast-paced, 10-minute huddle of 10-12 employees. This communication vehicle enables teams of employees to  learn in real time how they’re doing against their plan, identify where weaknesses exist, find ways to improve performance and then celebrate successes when they occur.

Once back on the floor, these same first line leaders encounter reality, and receive additional coaching about the best ways to lead 10-minute huddles. In two weeks, the team leaders are confident and their teams are performing at very high levels.  In almost every case, operating and financial performance accelerates.

Companies such as Mars, Inc., Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, ITT Corporation, SRC Holdings and many other open book management companies have brought the scoreboarding and huddling process to a fine art. But it all started back in a classroom before it “went to the floor”.

KEY TAKEAWAY:  Developing effective first line leaders has more to do with practice and process on the floor than a one-time training class.  However, the foundation on which the floor experience is gained often comes from new skills introduced in the classroom.

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